What’s Flying: Birds keep on singing, even in the midst of rain
“Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.” — Langston Hughes
Summer rains have come this past week, finally, and are again expected this coming week. Last Monday’s storm front brought much needed rain, and some brief cooling, but it did not come with a wave of cooler air. The latest front is finally bringing more rain and temperatures closer to the long-term average. The higher daytime 80-degree temps have made mid-day birding and hiking a bit more challenging.
Getting outdoors during these days can be revealing non-the-less as many birds are still singing. Adding to that, the trees, shrubs, and lawns are full of young fledglings, trying to figure out how to get the most from their hard working parents, now pressed every moment with their newly mobile offspring loudly begging for another mouthful.
Young European starling and common grackles have been staging large, loud assemblies in yards across the central Upper Peninsula for several weeks. Young starlings, in their plain brown suits, have the ability to produce extremely loud, grating begging calls. They also have the ability to clean out a suet feeder in an hour or two. Luckily, they are not seed eaters, so the sunflower seeds are safe from them, but not the grackles. Young cottontail rabbits, gray squirrels and pigeons, and their parents, have joined the fray. Eastern chipmunks have been a totally different matter, with a population simply exploding in the Marquette area. Virtually any birder spoken too will comment on the high numbers they have observed this summer. Marquette’s red foxes and great horned owls simply cannot keep up.
They now have been joined by more subtle groups of house wrens, robins, northern cardinals, black-capped chickadees, song sparrows, house finches and even brown thrashers. Sunflower seed, suet and a bird bath will guarantee a great show of at least one of those families as the young are shown the ropes for finding food, water and safety. The warmer weather may be keeping many of the insects these birds eat more active and easier for young birds to find as they develop their foraging skills.
On the water, a new set of mallard ducklings has appeared near the Coast Guard Station in Marquette with regularity. A new family of hooded mergansers was seen recently on the Dead River above the busy Tourist Park Lake too. It becomes quickly apparent how tenuous life is for young birds as the size of these groups seems to diminish each day and is good to remember for the more common species like mallards, if two survive during their parents’ lives that population should remain relatively stable. Unfortunately, for many less fortunate species that is simply not happening. A new family of hooded mergansers was seen recently on the Dead River above the busy Tourist Park Lake too.
The area’s trails have been busy with plenty of hikers visiting from outside the area and www.ebird.org has seen plenty of lists posted with great observations from them and from local birders. Some of the most diverse lists have come from Alger County. One very active Shelter Bay birder located a blue-gray gnatcatcher and 90 red-winged blackbirds in his tally of 45 species at the south end of the Cleveland Cliffs Basin south of AuTrain and east of Limestone. He also saw or heard a pair of trumpeter swans, a Caspian tern, three black-billed cuckoos and a pair of yellow-billed cuckoos.
At Pictured Rocks a post for the Beaver Basin area on July 5 included 17 species of warbler, with a rare Connecticut warbler, a pair of magnolias feeding a fledgling and five golden-winged warblers. Also found there was a wood thrush. It is a relative of the summer locals — veeries, Swainson’s and hermit thrushes. While the wood thrush range includes the entire U.P. and a good chunk of Canada to the northeast, they are more common in lower Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, but several have been reported in the past few weeks in the middle of the U.P. Like their cousins’ their song is quite magical, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wood_Thrush/sounds.
It concludes with a higher pitched trill that can only bring a smile.
When listening to other dominant songs, American redstarts and red-eye vireos seem to be the loudest and most commonly heard songs of the moment. Both are in the forest canopy, the redstart, a warbler, calling its raspy song in the fifteen to twenty-five foot above the ground range for its songs most of the time, the vireo, with its repetitive “I am here, where are you, I am here,” call up higher usually in the 30+ foot up range. A number of other warblers, like the black-throated green are also still singing widely across the area. In town, cardinals and song sparrows are regulars early and late in the day, avoiding, for the most part, the heat of mid-day. The latter’s song will probably last the longest as summer winds down and is a most welcome start to each morning.
It is always interesting to wonder about the other songs being heard, as some species may be working on second clutches, due to the early, warm spring. The cardinals and mourning doves in particular may be fitting that description.
For nature lovers and observers wanting to get outside, following the birds’ lead, reaping extra dividends as they too are more likely to active, singing and foraging in the wonderful warm light of dewy mornings and orange sunsets.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.